Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on March 30th, 2010
In the long run what was more important to Pixar and its relationship with Disney wasn’t the milestone that Toy Story provided being the first computer animated feature. Movies are, as much as we’d like to think otherwise, a business. In the end, a film has to make some money. Toy Story was like a private printing press for the two companies bringing in nearly $200 million at the box office. Add another nearly $200 million in foreign receipts, and this prototype of a movie pulled in nearly a half billion dollars before the first DVD was released. That’s huge for what was basically a children’s cartoon. The second Pixar film would be A Bug’s Life, and it would bring in nearly the same kind of jingle. The cry was too loud to ignore. The people wanted to see more of Buzz, Woody, and the rest of Andy’s toys. The edict came down from on high, and what once took them 4 years to do, Pixar was asked to do in about 18 months. Now we would find out if Pixar was a viable company that could produce films reliably and on a faster turnaround. Would the studio compromise on quality just to answer the gate call of millions of dollars waiting to be plucked from the pockets of eager moviegoers? Several films later we know the answer to that question, but it was very much an answer in doubt in 1999. But another $485 million later in worldwide box office settled the question once and for all. Pixar didn’t just start the computer animation business. They didn’t just define the industry. They would continue to lead it for the next decade … and apparently, beyond.
All of your favorite toys came back with their original voice cast. This time Woody (Hanks) attempts to rescue Wheezy The Penguin (Ranft) from the 25 cent box at Andy’s mom’s garage sale. The rescue brings him to the attention of Al (Knight) from Big Al’s Toy Barn. Unfortunately for Woody and his friends, Big Al has the largest collection of Woody’s Roundup collectibles on the planet. He’s been trying to close a deal with a big Japanese firm who want to buy the collection for huge bucks. But Big Al has been missing only one piece in the collection, the most important piece, however … Woody himself. The Japanese won’t buy any of it without Woody. So Al steals Woody and brings him back to complete the collection. There Woody learns about his roots and the television show that he was based upon. He meets Jessie, The Yodeling Cowgirl (Cusack), Stinky Pete, the hapless old prospector (Grammer), and Woody’s trusty horse Bullseye. While Woody’s friends stage a rescue lead by his now best buddy Buzz Lightyear (Allen), Woody begins to feel sorry for his new companions. They’ve been kept in dusty old storage for years waiting for that final piece so they can be put on display at a museum and be admired by generations of new kids. When his friends finally arrive to save the day, Woody must decide between his old friends and his television comrades.
While I must admit that I like the original film somewhat better, there’s no mistake that Pixar recaptured the heart and soul of that film once again in this second movie. It helped that everyone agreed to come back, and why wouldn’t they? The additional characters add some charm to the franchise and a welcome back story for Woody. We discover that he was a kind of 50’s icon much like Howdy Doody was in real life. The addition of Kelsey Grammer to the cast is just a perfect fit. I can’t say as much for Joan Cusak as Jessie. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I just never really liked the character all that much. She doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the gang. Perhaps I’m in the minority on that point, and she doesn’t bother me enough to keep me from thoroughly enjoying this movie. Again Randy Newman offers up some of his stylish songs. I think it might be his music more than anything else that offers the thread that ties this franchise together. It’s so much a part of the charm of the series that I can’t imagine these characters without it.
It’s ironic that the release of Toy Story 2 would be the event that almost separated the Pixar and Disney teams. With so much money on the line, Disney was eager for more in the franchise and was thinking about a cheaper direct to video series to carry on these characters. I’m a Disney fan, but they have cheapened so many of their wonderful properties this way. In any case, the contract between them gave this right to Disney, and they fully planned to exercise it. Pixar was so upset that they decided not to renew the relationship when that current contract expired. They actively pursued other suitors, and from the rhetoric on both sides it appeared a done deal that the two would part company. But in one of those strangest of twists, Pixar not only returned to Disney, but became a part of the parent company. Now Disney owns Pixar, and the relationship is safe for many years to come. Finally, the point of contention, a third Toy Story film is upon us. But, it won’t be a watered-down direct to video disaster. It will be a fully fleshed out feature film with all of the voice actors in the fold. Several had made it known that they would not participate in a Toy Story project from Disney that did not have the blessing of Pixar.
Toy Story 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec at an average 35 mbps. If you can believe it, this transfer is even better than the first one was. The colors are just that much brighter. The sharpness is just that much sharper. The level of detail is even more astonishing. The biggest improvement between the films, however, wasn’t so easily noticeable in standard definition DVD. With the high definition detail of a Blu-ray, we discover how much better the textures are in this film. It is most noticeable with Woody. You really get a sense of the cloth of his costume here. At one point it gets torn, and the texture of the stuffing is truly remarkable.
The DTS-HD Master 6.1 continues to be as impressive as the image presentation, if you can believe that. All of the same points I mentioned for the first film are just as valid here: The audio has the most natural sound. The Randy Newman songs continue to have the same dynamic quality to them you remember from the theater; even better as far as I can tell. The quality is rich with both highs and lows perfectly balanced and rendered. There’s plenty of ear candy, and this is a more aggressive mix. The scene where the toys are crossing the street is so alive with perfectly positioned sounds that you’ll end up on the edge of your seat. This is Frogger extreme. Again, you’ll encounter everything is placed so well that you’re right there. Dialog can be completely understood at all times. Another truly impressive production from top to bottom.
All of the DVD features have been ported over in Standard Definition to this Blu-ray release. For more details on that content be sure to look up our DVD review.
There are a few Blu-ray exclusive extras here, and it’s all in HD.
Sneak Peak – Toy Story 3 – The Characters: (4:00) This is basically a promo for the new film coming in June. Director Lee Unkrich gives us a very quick rundown on the new film’s returning and brand new characters.
Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs – The International Space Station: (3:47) This is a continuation of the very interesting educational piece hosted by Buzz. The focus here is the station itself. Very cool stuff.
Paths To Pixar – Technical Artists: (4:24) Meet several Pixar technical artists this time and hear them recount how they got interested in their craft and eventually found their way to Pixar.
Studio Stories: These are 2 minute anecdotal pieces about life at Pixar.
Celebrating Our Friend Joe Ranft: (12:46) Joe passed away during the production of Cars. This is a very nice tribute to the integral Pixar team member. There are wonderful vintage sound bites from Joe himself, describing how he viewed himself as an artist. There are also very moving testimonials from his Pixar collogues.
Sequels are always risky business. The truth is that Pixar has, for the most part, avoided them. Even with the success of Toy Story 2, the studio has been reluctant to dip into the same well. That’s all about to change now with a third Toy Story film nearly here and plans to continue the Cars and Monsters Inc universes in the future. Let us hope that the studio treats these upcoming sequels with the care they used on Toy Story 2. Sure, it’ll all end somewhere, but now I’ve got these high definition versions to see me through. “Besides, when it all ends I’ill have old Buzz Lightyear to keep me company. For infinity and beyond.”